At the 2008 Annual NFL Spring Meeting, NFL owners while crying broke over salaries that now encompass 60% of yearly revenues, exercised a clause (had until November 8, 2008 to do so) by a unanimous vote (32-0) to shorten the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA).
The vote means that the CBA that was originally signed in 1993 and was subsequently extended including the last time in 2006 will expire in 2011 instead of 2013. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said when making the announcement, “We don’t need further time to analyze whether this is working or not working. It’s not working‚Äù. The Commish added “It was the ownership’s view that it’s not a failure of the negotiations, it’s a failure of the deal.”
The move was highly anticipated by everyone associated with the NFL as costs have risen so substantially that the estimated debt for the league was surprisingly reported as a figure of 9 Billion dollars — The figure, which had never been public before, was disclosed in a letter that NFL outside general counsel Gregg Levy wrote in October 2007 to the NFLPA in response to the union‚Äôs questions about a league resolution to reduce team debt.
When contacted about the NFL opting out of the CBA, NFLPA President Gene Upshaw sarcastically said “My response to (the opt out) was very simple: What a surprise‚Äù. The two sides need to figure something out as the NFL has enjoyed labor piece since the ugly 1987 player‚Äôs strike. The good news is that the current deal is in place for three more seasons, but the threat of an owner unfriendly uncapped season in 2010 (cap is $116 Million in 2008) definitely has to scare the owners.
It is hard to believe that a league with an $8 Billion dollar a year television contract, weekly sold-out games in almost every market, and almost three to one number of fans in television ratings than any other professional league is having problems with money. However the NFL is partly to blame for their big economic problem.
- Payrolls have risen $30 million in the past two years raising the cap to the aforementioned $116 Million cap figure, with some teams (ex. Buffalo Bills) having trouble keeping up. The rising cap is due to players knowing they have to get ‚Äúupfront money‚Äù since all NFL contracts are non-guaranteed deals. Plus astronomical rookie deals like this year‚Äôs number one overall pick Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jake Long‚Äôs contract with over $30 Million in guaranteed money are causing salary issues. However where are the J-E-T-S getting the money to spend $142 Million in free agency, especially on known slackers like offensive lineman Damien Woody and linebacker Calvin Pace.
- NFL Network launched in November of 2003 has not grown as fast as predicted by the NFL‚Äôs suits and NFLN has been rumored to be losing money. The network‚Äôs struggles are definitely linked to its bloody war with BIG Cable (Time Warner and Comcast). The two sides are fighting over where the NFL‚Äôs baby should be placed on their systems and for what price. The cable fight has cost the NFL Network an estimated $250 million a year in subscriber fees according to a Philadelphia Daily News article by Paul Domowitch and I won‚Äôt even get into the legal fees.
- New stadiums/palaces at low-interest loan prices with little chance for revenues (ex. The Colts new Lucas Oil stadium was built at a cost of $500 Million).
- The lasting effects of the defunct NFL Europa still reverberating as the NFL‚Äôs ugly stepchild lost a reported $30 million per season.
- Plus can someone please tell me how the NFL can just sit back and watch (probably with smirk) as NFL Films, the greatest sports storyteller ever, had to layoff 21 employees. According to the same aforementioned Philadelphia Daily News article other NFL media driven ‚Äúhighlight‚Äù outlets are considered more useful than the venerable company. Give me a break !!!
The NFL has vowed that there will not be another stoppage like 1987 by saying that even without a new agreement there will be no “interruption of play for at least the next three seasons” through 2010. Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen cavalierly said about the opt out, “Is this an issue that’s so pressing that we have to do it tomorrow? I mean, we obviously have three more seasons to play”. He added, “So I’m sure we’ll be spending lots of time with the NFLPA.”
The two sides need to get something done by March 2009, which will be here before the NFLPA and NFL Owners know it. So the heat should be turned up on both sides making the sometimes too chummy organizations get something going.
In the next couple of seasons it will be interesting to see if this issue is resolved or festers. For the fans sake, the threat of tarnishing America‚Äôs Game due to labor unrest should get everyone moving.
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer/Analyst for BIGPLAY Football and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)